The Big Über Rock Interview - Ally Dickaty (The Virginmarys) Print E-mail
Written by Ben Hughes   
Sunday, 30 April 2017 04:00

Late last year, Macclesfield rockers The Virginmarys found themselves at a crossroads in their ten year long career. They had reached the end of their record contract and then long time bassist Matt Rose announced he was to leave the band. Now freshly invigorated and with a new outlook on life, the band recently returned with a new song called 'Sweet Loretta' and a full UK tour to break in new material and a new bass player. 




Über Rock recently caught up with singer/songwriter Ally Dickaty prior to the final show of the tour at The Key Club in Leeds to get the full lowdown on what's been going on in the world of The Virginmarys and why they are now doing things their way.


So Ally, this is the last night of the tour how has it been?


Yeah it's been great, Manchester and London were really good and tonight is going to be amazing too. It's been great playing with The Hyena Kill. It's the first time we have actively chosen a support ourselves and we've got these guys out with us. We are now reaching that stage where we can do that and it's just great to be back out there in front of the fans.


So are you guys still on a label? What's the deal?


No, we are doing stuff by ourselves. It's pretty much taking a producer role and it’s great in a way that we are in control of everything and we can release stuff when we want to release it.


How are you going to finance that, are you going down the PledgeMusic route?


We have one song recorded and out there called 'Sweet Loretta', and the T shirt sales from this tour are going into the next recordings. Then we will have an EP released and keep that momentum building and just self-fund through the fans support really but not through a Pledge campaign. I think by us producing it as well, it saves us a lot of time and money. 


Has it been a bit unnerving doing all this yourself?


Yeah, at first it was, but it's kinda breathed some new life into music for me. We demoed 'Sweet Loretta' three or four times, and went back and forth and tried it different ways, lifted stuff and bought it back down. By the time we got into the studio, it was just a case of banging it out and we've got a friend who is in a band called Aeges in LA, he did some mixing on it and he knows what it has to sound like. So, yeah it's been great.


Virginmarys - Sweet Loretta cover


This new approach, is this something that has come about since Matt left the band then?


It sort of happened at the same time, these huge changes before Christmas, we ran out of contract and then Matt left...what do we want to do? We've got all these songs that we just want to get out to the people, so that really is the priority, the rest comes second. So we will see where we are at the end of this year but we want an album out.


Well yeah, your fans demand new music don't they?


Exactly, it feels more organic and better this way to be able to have that control, rather than all the parties going through it and stuff having to be put on hold.


Was Matt leaving a surprise or was it something that had been brewing for a while?


I think it was probably brewing for a while. He got so disheartened by the whole industry really.


It's a difficult industry to be in, I mean, I know a few great bands who are part-time bands. They just tour weekends and hold down day jobs through the week as it's the only way they can do it.


Of course man, we are lucky as through constant touring the past ten years, we have kept hold of a lot of fans and, through what we are now doing, we hope that we just get enough to keep releasing music and keep the standard up to make great records.


It's tough, but you have to keep doing what you believe in, right?


Of course man, that's what it's all about to me.


Your last album 'Divides' was well received when it was released. 


Yeah, but I think labels have so little staff and money compared to what they used to have, but they have the same amount of bands and they will just run with whatever is making them money, so you don't necessarily fall out with anyone, it's just the same with anything whenever there is cuts. So anyway, it's just good to have stuff in our control really, it's a blessing in disguise.


Do current events fuel your writing then, what with the way things are in the world at the moment?


What, you mean politically?


Well yeah, I mean 'Divides' was quite political wasn't it, more than your first album?


Yeah, it was really political. The first album was more about addiction and where I was with alcohol dependency. I have been sober now for four and a half years and that transition was the toughest thing I have ever done. When alcohol is not an option, you start to look around at what's happening and the reasons why people are drinking so much and why there is so much addiction and dependency and I was angry and bitter. I was in that place when I was writing and I still feel that there is so much injustice and inequality everywhere. I feel like it's true democracy that we are supposedly celebrating and this time around I just think I want to put a good message out there and make people feel good. 


There's only so much you can complain about and I want people to come to the shows and have a great time. I want them to press play and for it to take them somewhere else and for them to feel empowered by the music. It is possible to make a change and I think through people getting together, that's the only way to make a significant change, it's not going to happen through attacks or whatever, Its a conscious effort to make people feel good when there's so much shit going on in the world. That's why there's an upbeat feel to the new material.


'Sweet Loretta' is the first new track to be released. It's been well received so far on social media.


Yeah man it has. We sent it to loads of people in the industry and they loved it. We have chosen how we have done it and who we have done it with and it's been great and we want to do more and more like that in the future.


Why did you choose that song first then?


I have a lot of different songs that I give to Danny and he feels strongly about certain ones. He loved that one and felt that riff seemed perfect to be the first thing to get out there. So we are back in the studio after this tour doing another three songs and we are hoping to get an EP out in the next couple of months.


Cool, and all self-financed too.


Virginmarys - Leeds 4


Yeah, through this tour. Our fans are coming down, having a great time and putting money back into the project to hopefully keep the momentum going. 


That's the way it should be.


It should be. There's going to be a lot more grooves and dance type feel on this record, you know back to the riff. I just wanna make music that people can dance and have a good time to as well as getting out there anger and frustrations. There's more positivity to this project. 


Do you have a permanent bass player now then?


Yeah, me and Danny have been doing stuff in the studio ourselves but now we have Ross on tour. He has been a really good mate and was on tour with us as Matt's bass tech anyway. An incredible bass player, so it's all working out well.


You did some gigs in the States last year, how was that for you?


Great, we did one tour with Shinedown that was great and then we did another with Aeges and Crowbar. The three of us together which is one tour we would love to recreate over here. That was an amazing line-up. 


What are the crowds like over there compared to the UK?


Exactly the same, certain markets are a lot bigger than others, but you still play some places and 50 turn up and other places 500 turn up. I think it’s in the same state as here really. Sometimes when you are from a different country, though, it can work in your favour.


Would you like to go out there again?


Yeah, it takes a lot of money to tour around America though. I mean it's like 12 hour drives from venue to venue a lot of the time.


I guess we forget how vast America is. I guess bands could tour over there for years and still be unknown can't they?


Yeah, I mean Texas is massive, bigger than Britain, you can drive all night... like Inverness to Cornwall and still be in Texas by the morning. 


It that what you were doing, touring in a beat up old van across Texas then?


(Laughs) Well, we did like a sleeper coach and a splitter with budget hotels, it's all good man, I love travelling around.


Virginmarys - Leeds 6


What are you doing in the UK then, do you have your own battered old van to tour in now?


We have borrowed a mate's van and we are staying at hotels here and there. What is different between England and America is that people are willing to travel to see you. Like Leeds to Sheffield is nothing for someone, yet some of our fans have travelled 8 hours, it's crazy.


Yeah, I was talking earlier about seeing Eureka Machines up the road at The Brudenell and how a couple of fans had travelled over from Japan just for this one gig. Some people will do whatever is necessary to see their favourite band. It must be great for you to see that?


Yeah, it's incredible. Whenever you feel disheartened, there's always that boost that blows your mind and we have this fan community online that has grown to over a thousand now and they all stay at each other’s houses and travel all over and get together, a proper army of fans. 


Ok, here's a few quick fire random Uber questions:


If you could have a billboard anywhere in the world, where would you have it, and what would it say?


I think I would have "Peace Love Truth Music" on there in the places with the highest conflict and the worst atmospheres, where is that message going to resonate the most? I'd like to start from home really and have it in my own city actually. There's so much rushing around and people don't really see life going on, it happens when you're busy making other plans. I kinda like what John Lennon did with the War Is Over billboards really, even though some people would be incredibly cynical about it but you can make a difference just with a simple, subliminal message, you could maybe change someone's whole day.


If you could go back to your 20-year old self, what advice would you give?


(laughs) I wouldn't give any advice, I wouldn't have taken it anyway… no way would I have taken it! I was kinda living the road to excess at the time. 


What do you think has been the best year for music in your lifetime?


I liked 97-98 where there was a lot of punk bands and rock 'n' roll bands. Rocket From The Crypt, Rancid and The Wildhearts were on fire, but then you also have bands like The Flaming Lips and it was a great time for Indie, as Brit Pop was slowly dying down and I loved that. Amazing melodies with an edginess and attitude. I just love infectious rock music, you know 'Powertrip' by Monster Magnet, I listened to that a lot. Then you get these beautiful melodies and hooks from The Wildhearts, almost like The Beatles, with Cheap Trick as influences maybe even The Who. That's the type of thing that I like, so you've got a raw energy but you've also got.... I mean The Beatles are my favourite band so anyone that gets that perfect, pop thing going is just incredible to me. 


So what bands are there around at the moment that have what those bands had 20years ago?


I don't really know, I listen to a lot more sort of underground Hip-Hop that's got a social commentary and it's about where their coming from. It's got that attitude, like rock music it's a bit dangerous and makes you feel like you're on the edge.


What do you think of a band like Sleaford Mods then?


Yeah, I think they are good


To me, I think they are proper punk rock.


Yeah, they have the attitude. But we shouldn't be cherry picking, you know it feels like they are one in a thousand and everything is so disposable now. I mean, I'm not sure of the value of releasing an album anymore. Because it feels like once you have released it, then the next month people are asking what you are doing next. You might as well just release a few songs here and there and constantly keep the momentum going.


I think that's partly why vinyl is enjoying a resurgence now. For me it brings back that thing of having a physical product. You have to listen to those four-five songs, then get up and turn it over. I mean, I've listened to MP3s for years, downloading band discographies and then never truly listening to them. When I was 17, I had some hard-earned cash, enough to buy one album, and I would listen to that album solidly for a month until I could afford another. I've bought a lot of records recently and even CDs seem throwaway these days.


Virginmarys - Leeds 1


That's it. I mean, I saw Flaming Lips at Reading in 98-99, and they blew my mind, so I was willing to spend 15 quid on an old album from the 80's on a chance that it could've been absolutely shit. But then Amazon started doing these 20 second samples of four tracks on the album and that was like revolutionary to me, 15 quid to a kid is a lot of money and that 'taking a chance' just wouldn't happen now, even if you think the album is incredible you would still probably not buy it and just listen to it on YouTube.


It's the same with gigs, a lot of people can't be arsed to go and see a band live because they can watch it on YouTube or a live-stream.


It's interesting times and I don't think anyone knows where it is going. 


Yeah, bands like yourselves are taking control of the music which is great.


At the minute we could have a label fund our album, but why would we want to? We own it and we ourselves can actually sell it and make some money back on it. There are still a lot of rock fans at gigs that will buy hard copy CDs and that is priceless at keeping us going for van rental and crew and petrol. 


If you can sell 20 albums in a night then that's £200 that will get you to the next place. But if you are signed, you have to buy your own albums to sell and there's no point as you don't make any money on them at all.


If you are a fan and you go to the gig, even if you don't listen to it in that format, you have a souvenir of that band and you might only listen to it online after, but I think there will always be a market for something to hold in your hand.


Yeah music fans will always want a product.


Yeah I think so.


Read our review of the Key Club gig HERE.


The Virginmarys play Camden Rocks on Saturday 3 June.


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